WHIDBEY RECIPES | Dinner will be better without that familiar pair

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and most of us have planned our menu and done the necessary shopping, or decided which dishes we’d prepare to take elsewhere.

And some of us, of course, have completed the difficult task of deciding which restaurant we’ll favor for our Thanksgiving meal, avoiding all the fuss but enjoying the food. This means, however, no leftovers; unacceptable in our house.

There is one dilemma I face every year and it has to do with a personal dislike for marshmallows, in any form. Yet, inevitably there will be someone at the Thanksgiving table who will say, “Where’s the sweet potato marshmallow dish? Did someone forget to make it?”

Never mind that every year I try to come up with a sweet potato dish that is far better than that tired old traditional, overly-sweet marshmallow-topped casserole. “What, no sweet potatoes with marshmallows?” will be muttered by someone, usually one of the kids.

I’m not sure when the marshmallow phobia began, but I think it first reared its ugly head when I was a Girl Scout leader at camp. It seemed mandatory that we all sit around a camp fire roasting marshmallows, night after night, and I recall thinking that I’d have to give up the job if I had to eat another marshmallow.

Today, I never even have them in the house, not even to put in our cocoa.

Sweet potatoes, however, are another matter entirely. I could eat them seven days a week, as long as I never have to pair them with marshmallows.

It’s probably safe to assume that sweet potatoes have been part of Thanksgiving tradition ever since the holiday observance began, but marshmallows only showed up on the scene in the early 1920s. I’m sure they were a novelty then, and cooks, eager to try something new, came up with the sweet potato/marshmallow side dish for a Thanksgiving treat. Somehow, it became a tradition, as did that other abomination, the green bean casserole topped with canned onions.

By the way, it might be worth mentioning here that yams and sweet potatoes are not the same vegetable, even though our supermarkets insist on selling them as such.

Yams are big, round, ugly, bumpy roots with a much different flavor, and most of us would rather not even have to deal with real yams. Whether you buy the red ones or the yellow ones, you’re actually buying sweet potatoes. Not that you care, but just for your information, and neither of them needs to be covered with a blanket of little melted marshmallows.

There will most certainly be a sweet potato side dish on our Thanksgiving table; I only need to decide which one this year.

And, just for those die-hards, maybe I’ll serve a small pitcher of marshmallow cream along with it, so whoever feels deprived by the lack of “the” sweet potato/marshmallow casserole can just pour some of the white goo over his serving of sweet potatoes. Not, however, if he/she is sitting anywhere within fork-stabbing reach of me.

I shall, tomorrow, be very thankful for good company and good food, and if I’m lucky, for a total lack of marshmallows.

RECIPES

In my holiday recipe file, I do have a recipe for “sugar glazed sweet potatoes with marshmallows,” just in case.

Right behind it, however, is this outstanding recipe. This dish is hearty enough to serve as a main dish for any other occasion, but for Thanksgiving it is outstanding with any meat or fish you decide to serve (there are people who don’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving, after all).

You can do part of this a day ahead, which is always nice for holiday preparation.

SWEET POTATO SAUSAGE GRATIN

¾ lb. sweet Italian sausages, casings removed

1 1/3 cups low-sodium canned chicken broth

1 1/3 cups dry white wine

1 1/3 cups apricot nectar

4 T. butter

4 cups sliced leeks (white and page green parts only)

2 ½ lbs. yellow sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced

2 T. chopped fresh thyme, or 1 T. dried

2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook sausages in a heavy large skillet over med.-high heat until brown and cooked through, crumbling it with a spoon. Using a slotted spoon, remove sausages to a small bowl and pour off any drippings in the skillet.

Add broth, wine, apricot nectar and

2 T. of the butter to the skillet and boil until the liquid is reduced to 1 ½ cups (about 15 min.). Pour into another bowl.

In same skillet, melt remaining 2 T. butter over med. heat. Add leeks and saute’ until tender, about 10 min. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the sausages, broth mixture and leeks, separately, until the next day, if desired.

Arrange half the potatoes in a 13-by-9-by-2 glass baking dish. Sprinkle with half the thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the cheese. Top this with half of the leeks and all of the sausage. Cover with remaining potatoes and sprinkle with remaining thyme. Season again with salt and pepper and cover with the remaining leeks. Top with remaining cheese. Pour broth over the entire casserole. Cover and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 30 min., then uncover and continue baking until potatoes are tender and liquid thickens, about 15 min. more. Allow casserole to sit a few minutes before serving.

Serves 8-10.

If you really want to shake things up a bit, try doing away with the mashed potatoes and gravy and the sweet potatoes with marshmallows and serving, instead, this delicious mixture of both white and sweet potatoes. This, too, is excellent no matter what meat or fish is to be your main course.

TWO POTATO MIXUP

2 lbs. white potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch pieces

1 ½ lbs. red-skinned sweet potatoes (often called yams in many supermarkets), peeled and cut into ¾-inch pieces

7 slices bacon, diced

¾ cup finely chopped onion

½ cup chopped red or green bell pepper

½ t. ground cumin

¼ cup whipping cream

3 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add white potatoes, cover partially and cook until almost tender. Using a strainer, transfer potatoes to a large bowl.

Bring water back to a boil; add sweet potatoes, cover partially and cook until potatoes are almost tender but retain their shape, about 6 min. (Careful not to overcook.) Drain and transfer to the bowl with the white potatoes. (You can do this a day ahead; cool potatoes, cover and chill until ready to complete dish.)

Cook the bacon in a very large skillet over med. heat until almost crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer bacon to paper towels. Pour off all but ¼ cup drippings from the skillet. Add onion and pepper; cover and cook until tender, about

15 min. Stir in cumin; add potatoes and bacon; cover and cook 10 min. Add cream and cook, uncovered, until potatoes are tender and coated with sauce, about

3 min. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to a large serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with parsley. Serve warm. Serves 8.

May all our readers have a joyous, friend and family filled, well-fed Thanksgiving.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.

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